Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Power of Decentralized Resistance

I've been enjoying listening to some talks by Jamila Raqib, who is Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution and a Research Affiliate of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In one of those talks she made a point about the nonviolent struggle waged in the American colonies for over ten years which granted de facto independence to many of these colonies months before the start of the Revolutionary War.  Her words got me thinking (and Googling) for more information.

In my search, I ran across a book (which, I must admit, I haven't read yet) called The First American Revolution - Before Lexington and Concord, by Ray Raphael.  In reading various summaries and reviews of the book, I came across some surprising information about the decentralized, grassroots nature of the vast majority of the resistance in Massachusetts to British rule.  No matter what one thinks of the aims of the revolution itself, one can't help but appreciate the wealth of information captured by recent historians about the ordinary acts of social and political disconnection by ordinary citizens which weakened and eventually destroyed de facto British rule throughout many of the colonies.

According to one source, the points made by Raphael concerning the revolution in Massachusetts are these:
  • The revolution was strongly democratic, and therefore highly decentralized.
  • Because the revolution was decentralized, it was ubiquitous (in other words, it sprang up everywhere, "taking place everywhere and at once without any central organization, specific times or geographical locations.").
  • Many of the revolutionaries were people who had had their voting rights taken away by the British.  Hence, the strong commitment on the part of these revolutionaries to participatory direct democracy among themselves at the local level. 
  • The revolution occurred without bloodshed.
  • Because the revolution was decentralized and ubiquitous, it was extremely hard for centralized British authorities to counter, or even to understand.  
To the British governor and his superiors, it must have seemed as if they were being eaten by a school of piranhas - a diffuse resistance which was highly effective in drawing economic and political (but not physical) blood, yet which presented no easy target against which the British could concentrate their forces.

This presents an important lesson in the power of everyday resistance.  A grand strategy of resistance is very important, and a wise and well-executed strategy by a wise leadership insures the success of a resistance movement.  Yet ordinary everyday resistance is also very important, even though acts of everyday resistance are not likely to make it into the news or the history books.  Such everyday resistance was used by the Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles East Germans, Hungarians and Czechs in their struggle against Russian Soviet occupiers in the latter half of the 20th Century.  (See this for instance.)  Such everyday resistance is also part of a manual for civilian-based defense published by the Lithuanian government in 2015 and designed to help Lithuanians foil any future Russian attempts to invade their country, whether that threat comes directly or through "hybrid warfare."

There is just one cautionary point I want to make about everyday resistance, as it is defined and has been studied by political scientist James Scott.  His catalogue of acts of everyday resistance includes acts that most societies would consider criminal, such as arson, sabotage and theft.  I don't think these acts should be part of the toolbox of tactics of nonviolent resistance.  The reason why I would exclude such acts is that criminal acts - even if they are nonviolent - weaken the mechanisms by which nonviolent resistance removes the pillars of support of a dictatorship, in much the same way that violence weakens nonviolent resistance.  Those who engage in such criminal acts give the oppressor an excuse for his oppression.  Instead, nonviolent resisters should be guided by the following principle: "...let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer..." - 1 Peter 4:15.

That still leaves many very legitimate acts of everyday resistance that can be employed.  (See this and this, for example.)  Using your imagination and creativity can be a lot of fun here.  In a future post I will describe an an idea that recently came to me for just such an act of everyday resistance.  Let's explore how to take bites out of the Trump regime, shall we?

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